Cross Stitch & Needlework Supply

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History of Cross Stitch

History of Cross Stitch

Cross stitch and needlework can be found in the earliest history, as far back as sixth century BC. Needlework has existed as long as there has been cloth to work it on. Pieces of embroidery and needlework have been found preserved in ancient Egyptian tombs and in Medieval churches all over the world. 


During the Tang Dynasty, cross stitch was popular in China. It is quite likely that it spread west along the Silk Road during this time between 618 to 907 Anno Domini. A females worth was closely tied to her stitching ability in China during this time, as it was her job to sew cloths for her family and her ability to embellish them beautifully was desirable. Floss, made of silk, could be purchased in open markets and was considered a  precocious commodity. Perhaps there were even rudimentary patterns shared between the women of China at this time. As a females writings were often burned as an offering up to her in the after life following her death by her female family and friends, so we may never know. 


In the eleventh century, tapestry was the most popular and famous of embroideries, depicting the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 (Bayeux tapestry). Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain and the first wife of England's Henry the VIII, is credited with bringing blackwork to England in the sixteenth century when she came to marry Henry's older brother, Arthur. Blackwork is believed to be the origins of what we think of as cross stitch today. It was worked with black sheep wool on white linen. Blackwork is still popular today.


The first printed pattern book was made in Germany in 1524. It would be quite some time before patterns became widely available. Printing was invented in the sixteenth century. These early patterns left the stitcher to decide what colors to use for their design.


Linen was extremely expensive, so every square inch of the fabric was used. Thus, the invention of sampler. Samplers were also intended to teach young women to sew, a valuable skill before the industrial revolution, as most women had to make their own clothes and the clothing for their families. Samplers were used as well to teach young girls to memorize their alphabet and numbers. They were also a tool to teach moral values, and to memorize verses from the bible. Since linen was so expensive, commoners used what is called perforated paper to do their designs.


The first fabric made specifically for cross stitch was introduced in 1890 made by a company in Germany called Zweigart. The fabric is called Aida, it is an evenweave and it is designed in little squares making it easy to see where to stitch each cross stitch.


Assisi embroidery is a form of counted-thread embroidery based on an ancient Italian tradition where the background is filled with embroidery stitches and the main motifs are left void (unstitched), similar to a silhouette. The name is derived from the Italian town of Assisi where the modern form of the craft originated. The traditional color used for most designs was red. Green and blue were also very popular colors to use. Traditional themes included animals, plants, and mystical beings like mermaids. Assisi was named after St. Clair of Assisi. St. Francis, the Patron Saint of Needleworkers, was her brother. Redwork is also popular today. 


Zweigart currently has two mills (2015). One in Germany and one in Switzerland. They distribute their products world wide. 


Cross stitch as we know it today was introduced in the 1960s, when women had more leisure time. Needlework in this country has generally been attributed to womens' work, but in its beginnings it was a craft preformed mostly by men who spent many years mastering their technique. Many designs  were made widely available with the ease of printing them and computers to reproduce the designs. You can find a pattern of just about any subject today. You can even design your own patterns with computer software.


Cross stitch is the most popular form of needlework today.  It is very easy to do and to teach. Most people who stitch, myself included, consider it to be relaxing and enjoyable to do. 


There are a few different types of cross stitch including stamped cross stitch. In stamped cross stitch, little Xs are stamped on what is usually a cotton fabric with a tight weave (no holes). The fabric is often used for a quilt, bed linen, or doily. You just stitch over the little X's to make your design.


There is no count cross stitch which is a great way for beginners or children to learn to cross stitch. The pattern is dyed onto the cross stitch fabric (usually an Aida) and you just follow the colors while you stitch. No need for a paper pattern.


More experienced stitchers like to do counted cross stitch. In counted cross stitch you use a clean fabric (Aida, Linen, Lugana, etc.) and you use a paper pattern and follow the directions on the pattern to create your design. This is the most rewarding kind of cross stitch. It's fun to watch your design come alive on a plain piece of fabric as you stitch. It's like painting with a needle.